When I was nineteen I made a very, very big and very wrong decision. I chose to become a Fashion designer.
It was towards the end of a fun-filled, truly immersive creative experience that was known in the 80’s as a Foundation Course in Art and Design ( I can hear some of you who may have done this year of art saying “I wish my foundation course could have gone on forever” and so do I). I was at Brighton Poly. We tapped into a whole raft of disciplines, each for six glorious weeks; life drawing, graphics, illustration, painting, 3-D, ceramics and fashion and it was towards this last area of study that I started to lean.
See above; it was the 80’s and we were in the midst of the New Romantic era. My days and nights were filled with dressing up and clubbing, mostly sporting the Funboy Three spiky hair (in pink) and wearing long gloves to go to seedy clubs and dance in silly way with others who looked like me. But really, some of the best times were in the preparation, more specifically in the making of whatever outfit I would wear that weekend. Cutting out ra-ra skirts on the floor and hand stitching weird things together.
Foolishly I thought that this was what Fashion Design was all about and made my choice for the next step, being thrilled at gaining a place at Kingston Poly to do my degree. Once there I worked my chops off. Designing, cutting patterns, sewing and knitting. “I’m making things” I thought. “This is what a Fashion Designer does”. I took plenty of Pro Plus and my little sewing machine whirred on into the small hours, churning out radical-looking garments.
To cut a very long story short, I graduated and set off for New York, working in the heart of the Garment District. Not designing, but photocopying. A whole year of photocopying in fact. Followed by some tentative stabs at designing when allowed, but mostly realising that actually I would rarely get the chance to cut, sew and steam again. My life as a designer was set to be one of meetings, costings, spec. sheets, fax machines and rows with scary buyers.
Some of the best times were when I was sent down South (and I mean Deep South) to work alongside our pattern cutter in a sweltering factory in Alabama cutting and sewing in the lint-filled air. At 5pm on the dot he would put down his scissors mid-garment and say “It’s Miller time”, get into his pick-up with the built -in gun rack and rumble off in clouds of dust. That was that until the next day.
Back in the UK things were not really different. A few years of the above and I started to realise I never, ever made anything. I missed it. I had pretty much forgotten how to sew and didn’t know how to make stuff anymore. It was all paperwork and planning. Again, the best bits for me were in the factories, tweaking patterns and feeling fabrics.
I’ll skip the details but some years on I finally made the jump to teaching Fashion, a job that was tough to start with but soon became an absolute joy. I rustled “dot and cross” pattern paper, helped students thread machines and chopped out metres and meters of calico. It dawned on me; I just loved to make things. That was what I was born to do.